May 3-4, 2018, Charlottesville, Virginia
Charlottesville, Virginia was a ‘must’ for our trip up the East Coast, even if it meant turning inland for a bit. This beautiful little city that is nestled on the edge of the Blue Ridge Mountains is home to Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s estate. It is also the base for the University of Virginia, which Jefferson founded in 1819. We had visited the area previously and really wanted to see it again, especially after reading Undaunted Courage: Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson, and the Opening of the American West. Meriwether Lewis’ roots were in this part of Virginia also.
Our first stop was Monticello, which is privately owned by the Thomas Jefferson Foundation. The last time we were here, the person in line in front of us was explaining his new job to the person he was with. He told her he was going to be a writer on a new sitcom. When asked what it was about, he replied “Nothing”. It was the early 1990’s, and Seinfeld had yet to become a household name, so none of us knew what he was talking about. 🙂 No TV writers this time, but we were greeted with this impressive display in the parking lot:
There had to be 50 of these beauties strung along several rows. They were part of the Classic Car Club of America’s Blue Ridge CARavan.
The black 1920’s era Bentley caught my eye, as it is a rare automobile.
We walked up to the impressive visitor center, which is a new addition from when we were last here. They have a gift shop, theater, museum and restaurant, in addition to a shuttle that takes guests to the estate at the top of the mountain. Once we were up top we took a house tour, as we remembered how interesting it was on our previous visit.
Unfortunately, photos aren’t permitted inside the home. We will say that it is fascinating to see the many features Mr. Jefferson incorporated into it, as he was quite the inventor. It is also filled with things he found interesting, covering a wide variety of subjects. If you ever have the opportunity to visit, it’s an excellent tour that is well worth your time.
On the grounds surrounding the home, photos are allowed. We joined in on the slavery tour, which explained the role of the slaves at Monticello.
Our guide took us along Mulberry Row, where many of the slave quarters and workplaces were located. She openly discussed the fact that Thomas Jefferson was a slaveholder, even though he coined the term “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal” in the Declaration of Independence. He knew that slavery would eventually need to be abolished, yet he had no idea how to bring that about…as it was so intertwined into the socioeconomic structure of the country at the time. We were surprised to learn that Virginia had the largest population of slaves of any state in the union. She also discussed Sally Hemings, the mixed-race slave whose six children are believed to have been fathered by Jefferson.
After that tour, we wandered the grounds for a bit. We spoke with one of the gardeners who maintains this 1000 foot long terraced garden. Jefferson would try to grow all sorts of things here, experimenting and learning as he went along. The worker stated a few of the things they were currently growing, along with the need to compost the dense Virginia clay.
The garden was created by building this long rock wall. As seen to the right, the plantation had its own vineyard and orchard. There were also many acres planted with crops in the valleys surrounding the mountain. With over 200 slaves working here, this was a self-sufficient community.
Descending back to the visitor center on foot, we passed the Jefferson family cemetery. Jefferson wanted a simple obelisk of coarse stone with the following lines, the achievements he most wanted to be remembered for:
Here was buried
Author of the Declaration of American Independence
of the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom
& Father of the University of Virginia
It is interesting to note that this is an active cemetery, with decedents still being buried here.
After leaving Monticello, it was suggested that we go check out the Apple Barn at the top of Carter Mountain.
Bold Rock Cidery has one of their locations up here, along with an expansive view of the Blue Ridge to the west. It’s a perfect place to enjoy a sunset!
The next day, we visited Thomas Jefferson’s last great achievement, the University of Virginia. On the way, we decided to check out a statue dedicated to Lewis and Clark.
We were happy to see it included Sacajawea, although it is odd that she is depicted as hiding behind William Clark and clinging to his coat tails. The memorial is in a tiny triangular traffic island on a very busy intersection, so there was no stepping back for a different photo.
Our next stop was the University of Virginia. We were in awe of how beautiful it was!
The original grounds…they don’t refer to it as a campus…is crowned by the Rotunda, which overlooks a central lawn. On each side are a double row of buildings that include offices, classrooms, and student housing. Thomas Jefferson referred to this as the Academical Village. The original housing is currently reserved for fourth year students who have shown leadership and academic excellence during their first three years. The students consider it an honor to be chosen to live here, even though the rooms are not air conditioned. Also, the occupants have to walk outside to a different part of the building to use the restroom and shower.
The inside of the Rotunda is amazing! This room once housed the library, but is now part meeting room and study hall. Note the nooks and crannies around the outside on both levels. Once Diana saw this, she asked the person at the front desk where the Admissions Office was. She wanted to go back to school, just to be able to study here! The building is the second version of the Rotunda, as the first burned in a fire in 1895. The students rushed in to save the books and artwork, even dragging a life-sized marble statue of Mr. Jefferson down the front steps.
That piece stands proudly in the Rotunda today, thanks to their efforts.
We thoroughly enjoyed our visit to Charlottesville. If you are ever in the area, be sure to take the time to check it out. You will be glad you did!
In our next post, we visit another important place on the Lewis and Clark trail: Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. It turns out that Lewis’ trip there is but a small part of the town’s story. Stay tuned and safe travels until then!